What stands out to you/has surprised you about your leadership development through the Fellowship to date?
I always thought leadership development was about sitting at the feet of experts. Someone who has the right philosophy or model and if I just spend enough time learning exactly how they see the world, then everything will line up for me. The problem with this is there are millions of experts and they have millions of points of view about the right way to be in the world.
At different times during the fellowship, I have found myself exhausted and irritated with sitting in another auditorium being lectured from the front of the room about the solutions to all of my leadership challenges. Over the last year I have sat in gilded lecture halls, private conference rooms, and in exclusive retreats listening to some of the most brilliant experts in the world talk about Brexit, our changing political climate, maintaining a competitive advantage in an increasingly global marketplace. I’ve listened to 10 steps to build your brand, 3 pillars to building an exponential business, and 6 things we can learn about marketing from Beyonce (that one was pretty good).
In these spaces, I’ve notices two patterns.
The more exclusive the space, the more likely that I will be one of the few women and often the only person of color. In the nonprofit and foundation sector, I have gotten used to relatively diverse spaces. After starting this fellowship and applying to be in more exclusive (aka expensive) spaces. I was shocked at how often I was surrounded by an almost exclusively white, male audience and led by exclusively white male, experts both as keynotes and panelists. This happens the most often in the futurist space that I have been getting to know.
First of all it is isolating to be in a room learning about leadership in a room where you aren’t always seen as a leader or seen at all. In those places I find that I need to take up more physical space, speak up, and be clear when I disagree about the group consensus. The other things that I’ve learned in these spaces is that they need me. They need my perspective as a woman, as a person of color, as someone who doesn’t live on either coast, as someone who grew up low income, as a first generation college student, as a Gen Xer, and as someone who works in the social sector. Each of these perspectives adds a new point of view to leadership conversations and I have found when I am present and speak up, it has the potential to make the conversation better for everyone at the table.I hope it encourages the people that curate these tables to make sure that there are even more people that add diverse perspectives.
I learn the most from people outside of my area of expertise. The most interesting leadership develop sessions that I have attended came during sessions that had nothing to do with my field of interest. I think that was because I wasn’t trying to break down the expert’s leadership model to see if I agreed based on my own experience. I was able to sit back and be a true learner.
Some of my favorite sessions so far during the fellowship have been about the music of black holes, leadership lessons from the United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice, using your brand to support social movements, and a session about the future consumer habits from an executive at Unilever. In each of these I was pulled out my regular routine and learned from leaders that were moving forward institutions very different from my own.
I have found that my issues as a leader are not about maintaining a competitive advantage or increasing our bottom line. My challenges are how to unleash the brilliance of the social sector to solve some of society’s biggest challenges and how do I do that without sacrificing my health and sanity in the process?
My biggest challenge during the first half of my fellowship has been how do I learn from people that have made a huge impact but still are happy, take good care of their health, and are their kids know their names? I’ve learned so much from having coffee with leaders that I admire and asking them how do you do what you do? I have also learned a lot about my own leadership by quieting the to do list in my head and listening to my own intuition about the right path forward.
I have so much further to go in my development as a leader, but it isn’t like bike riding, where you learn and then you are done. I am constantly going to need to refine and build my skills as a leader to adjust to the new challenges that my organization and my field face.